Sustainability, Livability and Other Pipe Dreams

Right From the Start

Last week the Portland Tribune carried a story headlined: “Livability Isn’t Enough to Keep Portland Ahead.”
The story went on to state:

“Portland leaders have long boasted that the local economy benefits from the region’s legacy of environmental activism.

“According to this argument, Portland is an international model of sustainable redevelopment, attracting environmentally minded residents and exporting its expertise to other cities wanting to follow Portland’s example.”

That in and of itself is an act of monumental self-delusion. For years, Portland’s uber left political class has bounced from one trendy agenda to the next, all the while congratulating themselves on being the “model,” or the “leader,” in whatever it is they have undertaken. But in the real world – the world outside of Multnomah County – Portland leads primarily in snarky comments about it by late night television talk show hosts.

The Tribune article sharpens the point by noting:

“A recent report on the local economy, however, questions how much longer Portland can maintain that advantage. The report, released last month by the Portland Business Alliance and a number of other business-related groups, says that many cities are focusing on improving their quality of life, eroding whatever edge Portland enjoyed.

“What’s more, according to the report, some of those cities, including Denver and Seattle, have higher average wages than Portland.”

Portland’s political leadership fails to understand that a good idea poorly implemented is just as big a disaster as a bad idea. That is particularly true for the uber left which greatly enjoys spending your money on their great ideas.

In the case of Portland’s political leadership it is routinely the same problem – the failure of any consideration of the human equation. It is a fundamental failure to understand that the quality of life, the livability of a city, the sustainability of a development, begins with a job. Absent a well paying job, the pretty picture that is Portland, is just an empty promise.

These aren’t evil people; they are simply ignorant. Most of Portland’s political leadership has spent a lifetime working for government. They lack a fundamental understanding of what it takes to create, maintain or grow a job producing business. For them business is a source of tax revenues. Beyond that they care little about the nature of business or the impact of their decisions on business.

For instance, Portland views its land use system as a model for urban planning. (Yes, I know that Metro does the land use planning but it is populated by the same uber left politicians and bureaucrats as Portland.) It looks good on paper. It deals adroitly with also sorts of “neat” issues that protect trash fish, over-populated birds, and microorganisms that no one is sure what they do. But the myriad of rules, the conflicting requirements and the shear absorption of time are smothering business development and thus job creation. Worse yet, the impact on business development and job creation is seldom seriously considered in the lengthy development of the system.

Portland’s political leadership also suffers from a lack of understanding about the scarcity of resources – the essence of proportionality or the need for prioritizing among competing “good ideas.” That is a predictable result of giving decision making to people who have spent a lifetime spending other people’s money without any appreciation of the difficulty in producing that money. Portland’s light rail system is a perfect example of that. If one light rail route is good, then a dozen must be great. If a light rail system is good, then a trolley system must be better and a tram must be perfect. Never mind that all that it accomplished was moving people off of a highly efficient and flexible bus system and on to an inflexible, weather dependent, and multiple transfer system that greatly increases the per rider cost. Forget the initial cost of constructing the system – all paid by tax dollars – the recurring operation and maintenance costs take up so much of the government’s budgets that taxes remain high and access to other services remains limited.

And finally, this type of political leadership lacks any sense of symmetry between its words and its actions. For instance, the two newest “trendy” ideas are to promote a “sustainable” development in a “green” economy. Flush with the excitement of being an “international model” the uber left – centered in Portland – rushed to embrace biofuels, wind energy and solar power. Left on the floor of their planning were three critical elements:

1. The real cost of producing and refining biofuels both on crop production and total energy consumption. It now appears that taking fields out of production of food in order to grow crops for biofuel, the chemicals needed to grow the fuel crops and the refining of those products into biofuels suggest that the process causes more harm than good. Meanwhile, the same people who promoted biofuels still condemn the use of forest byproducts as biofuels because – gasp – they may involve cutting down a tree for profit.

2. The rush to production of massive windfarms has scarred the landscape once allegedly cherished by the very people promoting wind energy. Not only are the massive wind generators a blight on Oregon’s vistas, but most importantly – and apparently ignored by the uber left until recently – massive power lines are needed to bring the power from where it is generated in Eastern Oregon to where it is consumed in the Willamette Valley. The very people supporting wind power now resist construction of power lines.

3. And finally, none of these “sustainable” energy resources are actually sustainable economically. Each and everyone – wind, solar, an biofuel – require massive taxpayer financed government subsidies both as to their construction and their operation and maintenance. Even President Obama – the nation’s chief uber leftist acknowledged that the cost of power consumption would rise massively in order to pursue “sustainable” energy.

Having said all of that, the fact remains that the uber left political leadership of Portland reflects the overwhelming majority of Portland’s citizenry. Many of Portland’s business leaders cling stubbornly to the belief that Portland voters will throw out the current crop of “dreamers” and install new leaders with an eye towards economically sustainable policies.

In the immortal words of Pres. George H.W. Bush, “Not going to happen.” Portland is what it is. Sheer numbers in the polls demonstrate that there will not be a change so long as there is a source of money to fuel these pipe dreams. It is for this very reason that Portland continues to see an outward migration of existing businesses, a decision by existing business to expand elsewhere, a lack of success in recruitment of new business, and a continuing decline in per capita income as well paying jobs follow the decisions of businesses.